[Review] VAULT Festival 2017: Wretches, Bees and Cursed Dummies (10/2/17)

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We’re off to a late start this week, but here’s the first half of our reviews at the VAULT Festival this week!

WRETCH by Interval Productions

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There’s a lot of debate on the state of homelessness and how to get people out of it, but few plays actually touch on what happens after. Rebecca Walker’s new play does just that, and boy does it go down a dark route.

Polish immigrant and ex-teacher Irena (Debra Baker) and ex-junkie Amy (Tori Allen-Martin, Interval Production’s creative director) meet while getting their life back together in a women’s hostel after months of living on the streets. Irena has cut herself off from the other inhabitants of the hostel, distrusting them and believing they will only be a burden, but Amy’s enthusiasm and curiosity convince her to open up and attempt to help her out. It helps that Amy once saved Irena’s life by phoning a hospital during their long nights out. Debra Baker’s accent is believable, and her tough character is one of the most sympathetic ones I’ve seen in a while, becoming a sister and mentor figure to Amy, who Tori-Allen Martin does a bang up job of infusing with likability and pity, like a stray you’d want to nurse back to health.

Rebecca Walker isn’t afraid of giving her characters brutal choices, and Amy’s circular path of self-destruction is heart rending to watch unfold. Her road to recovery is a long one, and the speed at which everything goes to hell is horrifying and painful, digging herself into a deeper hole while her ex-boyfriend (Timoty O’Hara) manages to move on and leave their toxic relationship. The songs by Eliza and the Bear, while not necessary to the play, help make the transitions between scenes a little more interesting, and Tori’s vocals are strong enough to carry them, creating Amy’s delusory, safe space protecting her from harsh reality. Although mostly occurring in her own head, the final song of the night is sung directly to Irena, and despite what had the potential to be a completely doomy and gloomy piece, gives its wretched characters a ray of hope that people can change for the better still. Although uncomfortable to watch at times, WRETCH’s message of small but certain hope is what ultimately gives its audience the strength to carry on.

WRETCH plays at Brick Hall (The Vaults) till 12 Feb. Tickets available here. For more information, check out their website here and follow them on Twitter @toriallenmartin @rebecca8walker and @elizaandthebear

The Swarm by The Quorum

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The Swarm features a nine-piece all female chorus depicting and celebrating the life of bees in the city through experimental opera. In the informative programme given out during the performance, The Quorum provides plenty of juicy tidbits about the origins of the piece and about bees. Inspired by the hive mind and their patterns of movement, The Swarm is an utterly immersive experience that ticks all the boxes and more for an unusual but spiritual night out.

Taking place in the Vaults’ Cavern with wooden benches reminiscent of a church pews, audience members are immediately hit with the smell of incense upon entering, mimicking the pheromones bees produce to communicate with each other. The Quorum excels at creating their sense of atmosphere, starting the performance in darkness before a soft light and soundscape by Auclair, while the audience hums to ‘awaken’ the bees. Upon awakening, they sing a haunting tune, something like Bjork meets Enya meets Imogen Heap, faces painted with gold spots and shiny eyeshadow, inspired by the Ethiopian Karo tribe’s focus on ornate body art to bring out beauty and significance. Throughout the rest of the performance, we are taken on a journey from the hive’s pilgrimage through storms, recruitment to expand the colony and clustering. There’s a lot of research that went into the pieces, taking notes from tribes and even science, like Euclidean rhythms. Of course, the average audience member would know none of this until reading the programme, but nonetheless appreciate the whimsical and rousing harmonies these ladies produce.

Combining movement, repetition and a finale that will leave your mind buzzing with awe, The Swarm is undoubtedly one of the most unique and innovative pieces available during the VAULT Festival, and will invigorate viewers with the power of music and haunting chorals.

The Swarm plays at the Cavern (The Vaults) till 12 Feb. Tickets available here. For more information check out their website and follow them on Twitter @The_Quorum

I Need To Vent by Loren O’Brien

Have you ever had that one annoying friend who borrows money, never to return it, freeloads, and still ends up playing the sympathy card to get attention? If you do, get ready for some post-traumatic stress disorder as Loren O’Brien brings to life in her dark sitcom I Need To Vent. 

O’Brien plays Allie, who has just returned from travelling the world in order to ‘find herself’ to find that her best friend and old straight shooting roommate Chris (Holly Augustine) has already removed her from her life, replacing her with fiance Nick (Sean Rigby) and completely taken by surprise. Being the self-entitled person she is, Allie is promptly offended and shocked that there isn’t a red carpet rolled out for her return, and worms her way back into Chris’ life by abusing the best friend card and playing up her crazy girl image.

Although Allie’s character is less than sympathetic, leading to a weakening in the dramatic aspects of the play, the humour more than makes up for it in spades. Playing out like an extended episode of Friends, commedienne O’Brien’s script features laughs at every corner, even in the darkest of moments that deal with everything from suicidal parents to cheating partners. From simulated ventriloquist doll sex to sick burns, O’Brien makes Allie a woman you love to hate, and undoubtedly a person you might have encountered in your life at some point (hopefully not you). The rest of the cast provide plenty of joy onstage as well, with Chris’ meltdowns darkly and humourously played out, Nick’s angry ‘man between jobs’ act done well, and the overly chatty Danielle Downey as Chris’ archnemesis Kitty annoying. Chris Leask as Jez in mourning brought out awws of sympathy for his plight, while Matt Crouzieres played the extremely creepy, attitude filled Allen with aplomb. Their commitment to their roles is what makes them shine, and there’s an enthusiasm and lightness to their performance that keeps the play so entertaining and constantly enjoyable to the last minute.

I Need To Vent has plenty of potential to be even greater than it already is, if the storyline was reworked and the characters fleshed out a bit more, and feels like it might have benefited if it were a full length play instead, but Loren O’Brien proves that she’s one of the smartest and funniest women in comedy today with the very witty and original script. Catch this if you need a laugh, and if you ever feel like that one terrible friend needs some comeuppance.

I Need To Vent plays at the Cage (The Vaults) till 12 Feb. Tickets available here. For more information, check out Loren’s website here and follow her on Twitter @LorenOBrienLO Loren will be doing a comedy act next week, so if you enjoyed this, check out more of her comedy with Okie Dokie
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Coming up tomorrow: Save+Quit, This Must Be The Place and Don’t Let Me Down.

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